Andrew Cuomo Plots His Survival


We’re seeing some Grade A, first-class, brass-knuckle politics in the state of New York. Wednesday there was an event in Harlem ostensibly to publicize a pop-up vaccination clinic at Mount Neboh Baptist Church, where the embattled governor,

Andrew Cuomo,

was vaccinated (the

Johnson & Johnson

one-shot). It was really a planned and raucous rally for a governor under impeachment threat and accused of sexual harassment and nursing-home deaths.

Civil-rights veterans, clergy and politicians rallied ’round the governor, who for the first time in many weeks seemed in a bouncy mood, in part because he’d banned the press—his office claimed “Covid restrictions”—which kept them from asking questions that got in the way of the message, which was: The people are with Andrew. Former Rep. Charlie Rangel, who’d been dean of New York’s congressional delegation, said, “When people start piling up on you . . . you go to your family and you go to your friends because you know they are going to be with you.”

Hazel Dukes,

president of the state NAACP, called Mr. Cuomo her son. “Thank you, governor, for all you have done, we stand with you.”

It was one of those moments when politics has real human energy. But the crowd, while pumped, was not numerous, and the speakers were old. Mr. Rangel is 90, Ms. Dukes 89. I wondered what kind of pull they have in this young city.

Still, it was a shot fired back when you thought he was all out of ammo.

Some thoughts on Mr. Cuomo from a long time observing him:

He is in politics. He wants to win and he wants to be the man in charge and he wants everyone to know his power and bow to it. He is a Democrat because he inherited it from his family and neighborhood, and anyway Republicans have cold hearts, except for liberal Republicans, with whom you can make a deal and who in many ways are preferable to Democratic pols except they have a blindness, they act as if politics is an earnestness contest. It’s not, it’s a game! But that’s their problem.

He was late to see what the coronavirus was. In his statements in early March he warned against “inordinate fear” and said what happened in Europe probably wouldn’t happen here because we have the best hospitals. Weeks later, when New York was the epicenter of the virus,

Thomas Frieden,

former head of both the New York City Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said if New York had moved two weeks earlier its death toll could have been cut by 50% to 80%.

But once Mr. Cuomo understood what the pandemic was, he moved. It gave him a cause, a focus, a role—savior in a crisis. And there was a vacuum to fill.

The White House wasn’t capturing the moment, they were fleeing it—it’s no big deal, no worse than the flu, tests are available to everyone, maybe you can inject disinfectant, buy in the dip. They gave up all verbal leadership.

Mr. Cuomo seized it. None thought him sweet, but it takes a mean man to beat a mean virus. He used the same tools

Rudy Giuliani

used after 9/11: specificity, eloquence and daily briefings. Specificity implies you actually know things. Every day he’d make news—number of infections, deaths, new cases, how many hospitalized, how many in intensive care. It was granular—where the state is getting ventilators, the complexities of competing with other states for personal protective equipment. He joined this with wholly theatrical and fully welcome arias about the meaning of family, what love is, who New Yorkers are.

In the week of April 3, the height of the crisis, he announced America’s nurses were on their way: “Twenty thousand health professionals said, ‘I’ll leave my home and come to your state.’ ” New York would “systemize that volunteerism, systematize that generosity, that charity and that expertise, and that’s how we beat this damn virus as it marches across the country.”

Those briefings were spectacular. Someone had to seem in charge, someone had to rouse and rally.

He deserved the stupid Emmy.

Now, nemesis: his ego. He’d grown popular, even beloved. A Siena College poll in late April put his overall favorability among New Yorkers at 77%.

It went to his head. Having won plaudits for taking control, he took more. His plans on openings and closings were increasingly complicated. The whole system began to look arbitrary and nutty. He started going from sincere papa to authoritarian nincompoop. (It happened to

Gavin Newsom

in California, too.)

Then news began to filter out that while he was leading verbally he had made a harrowing behind-the-scenes mistake—mandating that nursing homes accept those known to be infected. When he had said from the beginning that he knew the old were most vulnerable.

He would admit nothing, but his top assistant did, in a conference call. The state attorney general broke the story open with a lacerating report and announced an investigation.

Then, one by one, seven women came forward with charges of sexual harassment, some of which, they alleged, were committed during the pandemic year. Every reporter in town started to write about the secret that isn’t a secret: He’s a bully who surrounds himself with toxic enforcers. An impeachment effort is under way.

So with all this trouble, Mr. Cuomo must be finished. But early polling is surprising. Even after the nursing-home scandal, and the women, a majority don’t back his removal. Maybe it’s impeachment fatigue, maybe it’s not wanting more big change after Covid, but maybe too it’s connected to this: The state’s budget is being negotiated. The Legislature, increasingly under the sway of the progressive left, wants sharply higher taxes on income, capital gains, estates. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t want big increases because he doesn’t want the rich fleeing New York.

Congress’s Covid relief act buttresses his position: There’s a lot of money in there for New York. But progressives want the hikes anyway, because they believe in it and because they grew up in a rich country and state and can’t imagine anything they do could make them less so.

The move against Mr. Cuomo the past few months has come from the left, not the right; from the young, not the old. Albany Republicans don’t mind him much; Albany progressives do. He’s in their way. Some would be pained by what happened in the nursing homes, some by the testimony of the women, but all want him weaker in the budget fight. Or gone, replaced by a new governor with no time to build a wall of competence.

It’s interesting Mr. Rangel and Ms. Dukes came out against them.

Mr. Cuomo won’t resign because he doesn’t care what you think. He really isn’t interested!

Thursday I watched his daily briefing. He’s got his mojo back. He was laughing, philosophizing. He’s opening things at a speedier clip than in the past. Time for baseball! “It has been a long dark winter . . . Spring is upon us.”

He can’t, he’s said, take questions on the scandals anymore: They’re under investigation, the process must take its course.

He is playing for time and has come to believe he’ll escape with his life. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But that’s why he’s smiling.

Wonder Land: Like Trump, Cuomo has tried to impose himself on Covid. It may not end well for him, either. Images: AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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